Monday, 26 April 2010

Councillor Reed wriggles: New labour and the minimum wage in Lambeth

By Joseph Healy

On Saturday afternoon I turned up in the centre of Brixton for an event to demand the Living Wage for Lambeth organised by the South London and Lambeth sections of London Citizens. A large crowd had gathered, representing churches and mosques in Lambeth. The political glitterati had also appeared – Tessa Jowell, Chukka Umunna (Labour candidate for Streatham and sometimes called the ‘British Obama’) Chris Nicholson (Lib Dem candidate for Streatham) the Labour Council Leader, Steve Reed (inventor of John Lewis Council model) and the Lib Dem group leader, Ashley Lumsden – no sign of the Tories.

I was aware that Becca Thackray, our one councillor on Lambeth Council had put a motion to Lambeth over a year ago asking for the Living Wage for contracted staff etc but it had been blocked by Labour. I had received a request from someone involved with London Citizens not to try and hijack the event so I only mentioned the motion and the fact that Greens had got the policy adopted elsewhere. I thought that the beaming council leader would get away with hypocritically stating that Labour supported it also.

However, I had tipped off London Citizens beforehand and was pleasantly surprised when they announced that Lambeth’s contracted staff were not receiving LW – they produced a cleaner from Brixton Market, who told how he was trying to live on £100 per week and had a child to support also. I spoke to him later and found out that he was a GMB member. The Council Leader’s face was a joy to behold. But better was to come. As each politician placed a symbolic ballot paper into a box indicating that they would support the LW
in Lambeth, they were addressed by a young Muslim activist from London Citizens who read out a formal statement. As Reed prepared to pledge to vote, the LC speaker addressed him saying: “Cllr Reed, you told us some months ago that all contracted staff in Lambeth were paid a Living Wage but we have found out that this is not the case. We met with the Head of Procurement and she told us that Veolia staff are not receiving it.” Once again he looked stunned and his Cabinet Member for Finances, who was standing nearby was panicking. He then addressed the crowd and said that the only reason Lambeth had not paid the LW was because the previous administration had not placed it in the contract and this meant that they had to wait for a new contract. This is not at all the case and a clause could have been placed in the contract for a Living Wage. Clearly the Cllr Reed was trying to wriggle out of his past and he then signed up to the promise to introduce the LW for all contracted staff, as did the Lib Dems. Tessa Jowell tried to rescue the situation by stating that the Labour Party’s manifesto was calling for a Living Wage for all staff (cleaners etc) employed at Whitehall. My question to her would be why this was not done before now. Ken Livingstone introduced the policy years ago.

A typical example of New Labour hypocrisy. I have told some of my friends in Lambeth UNISON about this and hopefully it will be brought to light.

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